top of page
Image 5 Illustration of the narrator ripping up the wallpaper.jpg

Yellow and its Meanings in Media
Emer Greaney 

The colour yellow is most often associated with a range of positive emotions like warmth, happiness, optimism, and creativity. I would like to explore its uses and meaning in the media, ranging from the typical associations we have with the colour to darker or more abstract meanings that can be applied to it. To explore the topic, I'll be looking at three pieces of media, to see how the colour is used to convey messages or themes. 


Little Miss Sunshine

Little Miss Sunshine (2006) is a comedy drama film directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. The film follows a dysfunctional family as they make their way from their home in Albuquerque to Redondo Beach where the Little Miss Sunshine pageant is taking place, allowing 7-year-old Olive a chance to compete in the pageant. Yellow plays a big part in the imagery of this film. Over the course of the journey, the family travel in their yellow Volkswagen, and after experiencing the film and all the scenes in the van, it almost feels like a character in its own right. It becomes nearly impossible to separate the images of it from the story of the film, and the meanings it lends to the colour of the van. 

Fig.1 Little Miss Sunshine (2006). The family in their yellow van. 

The colour provides a fun and quirky look and feel to a lot of the scenes in the film, which I think contrasts in an interesting way with the subject matter the film discusses. It’s in the van where one of the most impactful scenes begins, when Dwayne discovers that he’s colourblind and will never accomplish his one dream of becoming a fighter pilot. Despite the mood of the scene, the yellow van is still present in the background. Always acting as the family's source of sunshine. 

Fig. 2 Little Miss Sunshine (2006). Dwayne, slumped over after discovering he is colourblind.

Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049 (2017) is a science fiction film directed by Denis Villeneuve, sequel to 1982s Blade Runner (1982). I find that yellow tends to be used most heavily in scenes where the audience, as well as the main character K, are about to have important information revealed to them. One of the first examples of this is when K goes to investigate a serial number found in the beginning of the film. The inciting incident leading to K going to find Rick Deckard, and discovering the truths about his own life and past. In this crucial moment, the colour palette drastically changes from cold grays, to strong bright yellow. 

Fig. 3 Blade Runner 2049 (2017). K at the Wallace headquarters.

As well as that, it's very prevalent in the scene where K meets Rick Deckard for the first time. The overpowering use of yellow in this part of the film, not only signals the truth about to be revealed, but also conveys to the audience the feel of the dry landscape. 

 Fig. 4 Blade Runner 2049 (2017). K on his way to meet Rick Deckard.

The Yellow Wallpaper 

The Yellow Wallpaper (1892) is a short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The story deals with themes of mental health and patriarchy as it follows a young woman dealing with postpartum depression after the recent birth of her child. As a result, her husband, a physician, confines her to a large house in the countryside in which is a room decorated with yellow wallpaper. Over the course of her stay in the house, she becomes obsessed with the yellow wallpaper, and as the story goes on, it begins to reflect her deteriorating mental state. The wallpaper is typically described in the story in a negative light.

'I never saw a worse wallpaper in my life. The colour is repellent, almost revolting: a smouldering, unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow turning sunlight. It is a dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others. I wish I could get well faster. This wallpaper looks at me as if it KNEW what a vicious influence it had.'

Further into the story our narrator goes on to describe the pattern of the wallpaper as being bars behind which is a woman trapped. On her final night in the house, she leaves her bed to rip the paper from the walls, to free both her mind from the matter, as well as the woman trapped in the paper. While the story can be read as a woman’s deteriorating mental state as she battles postpartum depression, I instead believe that the wallpaper, as well as the woman trapped within, serves as a mirror to our narrator and how her husband keeps her trapped in this house, constantly denying her requests to visit friends, family and even just to switch rooms in the house. I see the removing of the wallpaper as her biggest act of rebellion against her husband, because at the beginning of her stay, one of her first requests is to remove the wallpaper, as she obsesses about how disgusted she is with it.

For me, it is interesting that the colour yellow in the story represents confinement, as it contrasts with the happier connotations of the colour, such as seen in Little Miss Sunshine, or even with how Blade Runner 2049 uses it to convey truth. I love to see how authors and filmmakers can take our previous notions of colour, and bend and distort them until they replace them with entirely new meanings.

 Fig. 5 Illustration of the narrator ripping up the wallpaper.

bottom of page